The Nation: lies, lies, lies

We concluded our previous post on The Nation, the leftist weekly now celebrating its 150th anniversary, with a recent summing-up  by Daniel Greenfield. The Nation, he wrote, has “learned nothing from the past. Instead it repeats history as farce, stumbling from one tyranny to another in the hopes of finding progress somewhere among the corpses.” Having “aided the Soviet plan for world domination,” Greenfield noted, The Nation is now “doing the very same thing for the Islamists.”

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Yep. And just as it manages to align itself, in all its preening, putatively progressive self-satisfaction, with the least progressive forces on earth, it consistently savages the one democracy in the Middle East – and then, when necessary, lies through its teeth about it. In a recent interview with the Jewish Daily Forward on the occasion of The Nation‘s big anniversary, Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel insisted that her magazine had a “great” pro-Israel record, and cited what she described as a 1940s Nation article by Ron Radosh “lobbying Truman, the UN, for the creation of the state of Israel.” But Radosh himself, after reading the interview, called vanden Heuvel’s attempt to claim his article as a part of The Nation‘s heritage an outrageous misrepresentation. “My wife and I,” he explained in a Facebook post, “wrote an article for World Affairs Journal about Freda Kirchwey and Israel, and NOT for The Nation. In fact, vanden Heuvel wrote a letter to the editor accusing us of being Likudniks. Now she tries to make it appear our pro-Israel article appeared in her magazine.”

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Harry Dexter White

But, of course, without lying – outright lying – a magazine like The Nation, which is still peddling ideas that have been totally shot down by history, wouldn’t be able to survive. Just as the USSR pursued a systematic policy of radically revising its own past – including the total removal from the public record of any trace of certain individuals who’d played major roles in government – so The Nation just keeps on amending its own annals. So deep-rooted at Ms. vanden Heuvel’s magazine is this longstanding impulse to dodge and distort, to prettify and prevaricate, that, as Jonathan Tobin has noted, it ran a review in 2013 that – with breathtaking audacity – sought to whitewash the late U.S. Treasury official Harry Dexter White by quite simply ignoring Soviet records proving that he’d been a KGB spy. Throughout the Cold War, observed Tobin, the folks at The Nation had pretended that “Soviet infiltration of Washington in the 1930s and 1940s was a figment of the imagination of demagogic right-wing anti-Communists”; but after the Cold War, when the facts were put before them, they continued to cling to their falsehoods.

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Michael Moore

As noted, The Nation‘s anniversary issue also contains some new material. There are testimonials to the magazine’s extraordinary value by Gloria Steinem and Alec Baldwin, among others. Michael Moore offers a long piece – which is apparently intended to be funny – about why he should be elected president. In another article, Kai Bird argues for total U.S. “disengagement” from the Middle East – in other words, leave Israel at the mercy of its neighbors. Bird presents this as a respectable retreat from imperialism –because, in the eyes of The Nation, absolutely everything is ultimately about U.S. imperialism. Also included is yet another attack on “Islamophobia” – which, of course, The Nation has been savaging for years. The anniversary issue’s overall message is summed up in a cartoon by the reliably execrable Tom Tomorrow; entitled “All the Right Enemies,” it expertly toes the party line, claiming that The Nation has always been on the right side of history.

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Art Spiegelman

(It should be mentioned that, in the entire issue, there’s one admirable exception to the rule of irresponsible inanity: cartoonist Art Spiegelman, author of Maus, pays tribute to his late colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, writing “I have NO interest in baiting psychopaths, but I must show respect to the foolhardy and brave Charlie Hebdo artists.”)

Fittingly, the issue concludes with a few brief contributions from young people who are presented as embodying the future of the magazine and its ideology. Here’s a sample, from a 22-year-old Harvard student: “I am 22 years old, and I have been a climate activist for ten years. My call is for a radical future now.” Plus ça change…

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Mikhail Gorbachev

Quite appropriately, one of the big names who have provided a blurb for The Nation‘s anniversary issue is Mikhail Gorbachev. “It is very important a magazine that stands for left-wing, progressive ideas has an audience in America,” writes Gorby. That The Nation, on the occasion of its 150th anniversary, can proudly flaunt the approval of the last unelected Communist ruler of the Soviet Union says pretty much all you need to know about what this rag is all about.

The Nation post-9/11: finding new enemies to love

We’re taking an extended look at the history of the American left’s flagship weekly, The Nation, which this year is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a special issue that’s available for free online – and that does a pretty neat job of airbrushing and whitewashing that history. We’ve seen how The Nation, during the Cold War, served as a Stalinist mouthpiece, an apologist for the Khmer Rouge, and an enemy of Western freedoms.

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Katha Pollitt

Then came 9/11. The response of The Nation was predictable. After the Twin Towers were brought down, columnist Katha Pollitt wrote a self-satisfied screed about her refusal to let her daughter, whose high school was “only blocks from the World Trade Center,” fly the Stars and Stripes from their apartment window. While the smoke was still clearing, Jonathan Schell preached that if Americans wanted to prevent another such assault, they needed to “understand…the sources of the hatred that the United States has incurred” – the point, of course, being that the U.S. had brought on the attack through its own actions. Naomi Klein took the same line, accusing the U.S. of having “become expert in the art of sanitizing and dehumanizing acts of war committed elsewhere…The United States is a country that believed itself not just at peace but war-proof, a self-perception that would come as quite a surprise to most Iraqis, Palestinians and Colombians.”

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The late Christopher Hitchens

In the whole rag, the lone voice of logic and decency was longtime contributor Christopher Hitchens – who soon found himself driven out of The Nation for recognizing the 9/11 perpetrators not as pitiable, justice-seeking victims of evil Western imperialism but as vile jihadist haters of American freedom. (Interestingly, The Nation‘s anniversary issue omits all of these pieces, boiling down its entire coverage of 9/11 to a snippet that takes up part of page 171.)

150th_issue_cover_otu_imgThe post-9/11 posture of The Nation on Islam has been no surprise. After all, the one constant at the magazine, ever since its embrace of Communism, has been its determination to hold fast to its anti-American ideology in the face of one onslaught after another of facts that thoroughly discredit that ideology, and to evince sympathy for whatever totalitarian entity has set itself up against U.S. “hegemony.” Daniel Greenfield summed up  the whole business quite neatly in 2013: The Nation has “learned nothing from the past. Instead it repeats history as farce, stumbling from one tyranny to another in the hopes of finding progress somewhere among the corpses.” Having “aided the Soviet plan for world domination,” Greenfield noted, The Nation is now “doing the very same thing for the Islamists.” Indeed.

Tomorrow we’ll wrap up our series on The Nation with some closing observations about its anniversary issue – and a thought or two about its future.

Whitewashing The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Not so long ago, we took a sidelong glance at Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of the left’s flagship magazine, The Nation. Like her husband, Stephen F. Cohen, a longtime Ivy League expert on Russia, vanden Heuvel was a big apologist for the Soviet Union and is, today, a big fan of Vladimir Putin. Not to beat a dead horse – or a cadaverous ideology – but it would be remiss of us not to revisit Katrina, and her storied publication, in commemoration of what is, in more than one sense, a red-letter day in the history of American political journalism: namely, the 150th anniversary of The Nation, which was founded on July 6, 1865.

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John Dos Passos

To celebrate this milestone, The Nation has published an extra-large special issue, a pdf of which is available for free online. It’s well worth perusing. Simply in terms of layout and design, it’s a beautiful piece of work. Among the dozens of articles drawn from the magazine’s immense archives are critiques of George Armstrong Custer’s attack at the Little Big Horn, the annexation of Hawaii, U.S. imperialism in the Philippines, and many other once-burning issues. There are also innumerable essays and reviews by such eminences as John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, Clement Greenberg, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hannah Arendt, and Ray Bradbury, and poems by the likes of William Butler Yeats, W.H. Auden, Wallace Stevens, and Elizabeth Bishop – a salutary reminder that, for a long time, the back pages of The Nation were deservedly respected for introducing the public to major literary works and for publishing serious literary and cultural commentary, all of which was more or less effectively sealed off from the ideologically saturated claptrap up front.

But when it comes to the articles in this anniversary number that have been drawn from the front of the book, the two key words are caveat lector – let the reader beware. For this special issue is a masterpiece of cynicism and dishonesty. First, the editors have selected – and silently edited – vintage texts that show off the magazine at its best; second, they’ve supplemented those texts with new material that positions those articles in the magazine’s history – and presents the magazine’s role in the history of the modern world in a way that takes creative spinning, whitewashing, and airbrushing to new heights, presenting The Nation as a magazine that has always been right, even when everyone else was wrong, and that has always been good, even when everyone else was bad.

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Willa Cather

To be sure, in its early decades, The Nation was indeed a highly admirable mainstream journal. Its founders were Republican abolitionists who believed in liberty and democratic capitalism, and who argued for the equal rights of women and blacks. In the back of the book – the cultural pages – they published works by such luminaries as Henry James and Willa Cather.

Then…well, something happened. The Gilded Age came along – the era of the “robber barons”  and the capitalist abolitionists were succeeded by reflexively pro-labor, anti-capitalist “progressives.” They were (to put it mildly) soft on socialism, but they had valid points to make about the need for worker protections and safety nets.

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Freda Kirchwey

From there on, however, it just got worse. In A Better World,  a 1982 book about the relationship between Stalinism and the American intellectual left, William Oneill [sic] notes that after The Nation was purchased in 1937 by Freda Kirchwey, an outright Stalinist who’d been working at the magazine since 1918, she installed herself as editor-in-chief and turned the weekly, former an open forum of the liberal left,” into “an organ of the Popular Front” – meaning, essentially, a propaganda mouthpiece for Stalin. 

For Kirchwey and The Nation, solidarity with Stalin necessitated the denunciation and smearing of all critics of the Soviet Union, whether conservative or liberal, and the fierce, unequivocal rejection of any hint that the USSR might, in fact, be – like Hitler’s Germany, and even moreso than Mussolini’s Italy and Franco’s Spain – a cruel and evil totalitarian state. Kirchwey’s logic? As she put it herself, Communists, for all their imperfections, had “also fought for decent conditions for workers and the unemployed, for equality of rights for Negroes, for relief and aid to the victims of the civil war in Spain.” Yes, and Mussolini made the trains run on time. The current editors of The Nation – who tastefully omit to mention Kirchwey’s Stalinism in the anniversary issue – offer this outrageously lame explanation for her systematic refusal to so much as hint at the monstrous truth about life in the USSR: “Kirchwey and [her successor as editor-in-chief] Carey McWilliams felt that to couple a critique of McCarthyism with accounts of the situation in the Soviet Union would deflect attention from the threat to freedom at home.” Right. Just as The Nation of 2015 denounces Western counterjihadiststoday while acting as if jihadists themselves are a creature from some bestiary of the imagination, so did The Nation of yore pillory anti-Communists while all but pretending that Western Communism – a very real threat – was a fantasy.

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Front cover of S.J. Taylor’s book about Walter Duranty

August 1939 brought the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which Stalin fans capable of being honest with themselves recognized as a mammoth betrayal, an alliance of their greatest hero with their most despised enemy. Many of them felt driven, as Oneill puts it, to try “to explain what had gone wrong, and sometimes even where they had gone wrong personally.” Yet some on the American left “resisted this temptation.” Oneill identifies this resistance primarily with The Nation, “whose capacity for introspection,” he states, “was nonexistent.” Quite simply, the magazine “did not apologize for past errors,” and “[e]xcept when nursing grudges it had almost no memory, the world being born anew in its pages every week.”

The Nazi-Soviet Pact, in any event, was soon forgotten; a few weeks later Europe was at war, and the USSR was allied with Britain and France, and Stalin was once again a hero – in, above all, the pages of The Nation. And after the war was won, The Nation reliably provided its readers with (in Oneill’s words) sheer “fantasy” and “naked propaganda” about the victorious Uncle Joe and his workers’ paradise. In The Nation during these years, Oneill points out, Russia was depicted as alternately revolutionary and liberal – or sometimes both at once – as the need of the moment required.” Writing in The Nation in 1946, Walter Duranty described a purge by Stalin as “a general cleaning out of the cobwebs and mess.” (As one observer later put it, “The Nation excused mass murder so long as it was red mass murder.”) When the USSR brutally turned the countries of Eastern Europe into Communist satellites, Kirchwey, far from protesting this savage act, supported it as a “process of revolution.”

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Uncle Joe

As for Stalin’s annexation of the Baltic republics, Oneill cites a suggestion by Reuters correspondent Alexander Werth that this, too, was just fine, because, after all, those republics had been run by fascists (or so the Kremlin said) – and besides, they weren’t “really countries” anyway.

Readers of the current incarnation of The Nation will find these two arguments very familiar: they’re precisely the same ones that vanden Heuvel and her husband employ today to justify Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine: (1) it’s (according to them) a fascist state, and (2) Ukraine is (to quote vanden Heuvel) “a country on Russia’s border, harbor to its fleet, that has had a fragile independent existence for barely 20 years.”

Then as now, you see, the countries “on Russia’s border” don’t matter to The Nation; all that matters is Mother Russia itself, which in 1917 became the beacon of hope for utopian ideologues and enemies of individual liberty around the world, and which, even all these years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, continues to serve the America-haters at The Nation as a counterbalance to American power and American values.

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James Agee

We’ve mentioned that The Nation‘s cultural pages were generally free of control by the editors who ran the front of the book. Sometimes this had results that might fairly be described as schizophrenic. Consider James Agee’s 1947 review of the now-classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, which is reprinted in the anniversary issue. The review is a total slam – and what’s interesting about it is that what Agee is criticizing in the movie is precisely what’s wrong with the magazine for which he happens to be reviewing it. “I mistrust any work,” he writes, “which tries to persuade me—or rather, which assumes that I assume—that there is so much good in nearly all the worst of us that all it needs is a proper chance and example, to take complete control. I mistrust even more deeply the assumption, so comfortably stylish these days, that whether people turn out well or ill depends overwhelmingly on outside circumstances and scarcely if at all on their own moral intelligence and courage.” One could hardly pen a more stinging indictment of the dangerously credulous view of the world – trusting in the power and virtue of social engineering, and rejecting the importance and value of individual liberty and individual character – that informed the political pages of Kirchwey’s magazine.

What about The Nation during the Cold War? We’ll move on to that next time.